In July 2016 things came crashing down. After another PB half marathon and a bit of work stress, I was feeling unusually tired. In hindsight that was a big warning sign that I should not have ignored. During my long run the next weekend I felt a pain in my lower back/glute. We put it down to tight muscle and tried to ignore it. By the end of my next run I could barely walk. After a week of trying to convince myself it was just a tight muscle or twisted vertebrae, I finally went to visit the physio. One MRI later I had my answer. A stress fracture in my sacrum, 16 weeks with no running, 8 weeks of no cross training at all. The sports doctor told me it was because I wasn’t eating enough. But I eat heaps I insisted.
So I grieved. I cried, I bargained, I got angry. I despaired of all the races I would miss and all the fitness I would lose. And then I decided to turn it around – after talking to another athlete who had been through a similar injury, her advice was to use the situation as a positive. The fact that I still hadn’t got my period back had been in the back of my mind but I hadn’t been willing to make changes to fix it. This was the perfect time – I was being forced not to run, and I was told I had to eat more. The dietitian thought that the time frame would be enough for it to come back. If I only I had found Jill or Nicola Rinaldi’s book back then.
I discovered Jessica Sepel’s book A Healthy Life though. I made some big changes. I let go of dieting. I started working on reducing my stress and healing my relationship with food and my body. I gained a few kilos. I added a few carbs. But I didn’t totally let go of restriction, and I couldn’t totally let go of the fear of gaining weight.
Soon I was allowed to run again and still no period. I slowly began adding the miles back in, getting my fitness back. I was still eating more and I was careful that I increased my food as I increased my exercise. And then I got back on the scales. I was feeling my clothes get tighter and I just had to know. So I tightened up my diet, cut back a little. And slowly the weight started to go off, my clothes fit a bit better.
5 months later, after careful slow build up I was back up to 100km/week. I still had no period. But there had been signs – for a few months I had increased CM, and I’d been told 6 months to a year was normal. World shattering event number 2. A second stress fracture, this time in my pubic bone. Misdiagnosed for a month as possible psoas tendonitis (I don’t think either the physio or myself were 100% convinced, even after a clear MRI).
This time I was put on crutches for 4 weeks. Needless to say I fought that hard (you can’t hide crutches – everyone will know!!). Now I came through the first stress fracture pretty well, I was more relaxed, I thought I was fuelling myself better, I was listening to my body more, and I was pretty positive. So the second one hit me pretty hard. How do you accept that you made the same mistake twice? The good thing is that I had already decided I needed to make more changes and I already had a fair idea what that would be – reducing intense exercise, more carbs.
Ok, body I’m listening now. I finally looked for real, definite answers. And that’s what I got. I was ready to make changes and commit fully. I let go of fear. I said yes. Yes to food, yes to gaining weight, yes to valuing my health.
Well, it wasn’t that easy. Change is always hard. It took a lot of meditation and relaxation and soul searching. Being on crutches there wasn’t a lot I could do. So for 4 weeks I did some short, arms only swimming sessions and an upper body weight session, and spent the rest of the time sitting around. And I ate. I added in carbs. I ate until I felt full. I ate chocolate and I didn’t feel guilty.
The day I got rid of the crutches I finally welcomed my first period. And I knew I was finally making my body happy.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it – recovery is hard, and some days it feels shit. Some days you will question why you are doing it, and you will want to go back to your old ways and miss your old body. Some days I look in the mirror and I like what I see, other days not so much. I work hard to retrain my thinking, to restore a healthy, trusting relationship with my body. And slowly it’s getting easier. For the most part, no longer feel the need to fight my body. I feed it when it’s hungry, I rest when I’m tired or stressed, and I give it positive messages (yes that does sound corny but you have to realise your body hears all your thoughts).
I buried my head in the sand for way too long, because once you get the answers you can’t unlearn them. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and in its right time. When I was ready to really make the changes I needed to, the answers seemed to fall into my lap. I found Jill and Tina Muir and Nicola Rinaldi and a whole support network. I hope that in sharing my story it will encourage you to find your answers, to take the steps. I found my strength in being vulnerable. Where will you find yours?